A showdown looms between Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas over the latter’s apparent rejection of the Palestinian Prisoners peace plan. Abbas gave Hamas until midnight tonight to endorse the plan or face a national referendum. Polls show that 81% of Palestinians favor the referendum. The Statesman reports that Prime Minister Ismail Haniya is still waffling:
Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniya, in his strongest statement yet on the matter, said in Gaza yesterday the referendum idea was illegal.
“The local basic law and the advice we got from experts in international law say that referendums are not permitted on the Palestinian land,” he said.
But Mr Haniya added that “from a political point of view, the holding of a referendum necessitates serious studies”.
For Abbas’ purposes I think we can call this statement a “No.” Which would mean that tomorrow will see Abbas set in motion the referendum. I’ve discussed my views on the referendum and what it could mean for the peace process. It’s interesting to know what Israel’s response is to all this Palestinian sturm und drang. Curiously little. At the last Cabinet meeting, Olmert barely stifled a yawn when he made this imperious comment:
…The prisoners’ document does not present anything new from our point of view. Its contents are entirely unacceptable to us and it does not constitute the basis for anything. I would not bother to relate to it because it’s an internal Palestinian issue.”
Criticizing the direction of the cabinet discussion, he added that “not everything needs Israeli analysis. Not every little act requires ministerial comment. You are, after all, government ministers. Analysts work in the media.”
Studied indifference. An old ploy. But don’t you believe it. The Prisoner’s Plan, if endorsed by the Palestinian people, is big news since it basically satisfies Israel’s and the world’s conditions for full peace negotiations with the Palestinians. Neither the U.S. nor the international community will allow Israel to rebuff this initiative whether Olmert wants to or not.
Today’s headlines tell us that Olmert made a vague reference after meeting with Hosni Mubarak to agreeing to talks with Abbas:
I intend to meet with the PA Chairman to make genuine progress in line with the Road Map. I hope that our Palestinian partners will seize the moment and implement their obligations in order to progress with us.”
But the nature of the talks are ill-defined. Olmert will want to talk about logistics and what Abbas needs to do to combat terror. Abbas will want to begin final status talks. Those are two entirely different agendas. After a referendum, it will be all the more difficult for Olmert to hold fast to his refusal to enter into serious peace talks.
Compare Olmert’s response to that of Amir Peretz, the Labor Party Defense Minister:
“Any move that occurs in the Palestinian Authority will be evaluated carefully, but this is an internal Palestinian process and it’s preferable for Israel not to interfere,” said Israel’s defense minister, Amir Peretz.
Peretz ‘gets it’ and Olmert barely has a clue.